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Tuesday, December 13, 2005

New Labor-HHS Spending Deal in House Restores Medicare Viagra Funding, Rural Healthcare Grants

Men who depend upon Medicare to pay for their Viagra prescriptions can rest easy now that congressional appropriators have come up with a new deal in their attempts to get Congress to approve the Labor-HHS Appropriation bill, H.R. 3010. The deal restores $90 million in funding for Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs.

In addition to deleting the provision that barred Medicare coverage of the ED drugs, the deal adds funding for several rural health programs favored by some of the rural Republicans who voted against the conference report Nov. 17 when the House defeated the proposal 209-224.

Overall, the new Labor-HHS proposal keeps total spending for federal healthcare programs at $602 billion, including $142.5 billion in discretionary programs. The fact that only 77 percent of the Labor-HHS spending is for mandatory entitlements is indicative of the narrowing range of options for Congress to control the federal budget.

Here's how Congressional Quarterly (subscription only) describes the deal's background:

"Twenty-two Republicans voted against the original conference report (H Rept 109-300) for various reasons. At least seven House GOP members cited cuts to rural health programs as a reason for their opposition.
"To assuage their concerns, the new deal will provide more funding to a few rural health programs. The revised bill would provide $9 million for a rural health research and policy program that funds eight regional centers and produces policy papers on rural health care issues, which was the same amount as allocated in fiscal 2005. The original conference report would have eliminated the program.
"The revised measure also would provide $39 million for a rural health grant outreach program that provides three-year flexible grants to communities, the same amount as provided in fiscal 2005. The earlier conference report would have reduced the program by 73 percent.
"Area health education centers would receive $29 million under the revised bill. Appropriators had initially agreed to provide $2 million for the program, which helps recruit and retain health professionals to underserved areas."

To see how your congressman voted on the first Labor-HHS conference report Nov. 17, go here.